10 years of the Leigh Park visual arts hub Making Space

Gilder Richard Walker at work in his studio

Gilder Richard Walker at work in his studio - Credit: Archant

Popping to the shops in Leigh Park can be a distracting business due to the presence of visual arts hub Making Space. Faith Eckersall paid them a visit as they marked their tenth anniversary

It’s not what you’d expect to see in Leigh Park – a row of jewellery-makers toiling at their benches as you walk by to the shops. You also wouldn’t expect to see children as young as nine confidently soldering silver, or ceramicists prepping their clay in full public view.

But the residents of this part of east Hampshire have had ten years to get used to this spectacle – because that’s how long Making Space has occupied its bespoke building, where glass-walled workshops face directly onto the street. “The building was deliberately designed like that,” says director Lynne Dick. “We wanted everyone to be able to see craftspeople working.”

It piques curiosity and gives a sense of ownership and that’s important for Leigh Park, which has suffered with issues that accompany being classified as an ‘area of multiple deprivation’. An example of this is that although it looks close to Portsmouth on the map, it can take nearly an hour to get there by bus.

“It’s an issue of cultural entitlement,” says Lynne, explaining that while people shouldn’t have art ‘done to them’, they are entitled to an equal chance of being involved in art or craft which is proven to enhance quality of life and is also a major contributor to this country’s economy. Around £3.4 billion a year, according to the Crafts Council.

But Making Space is not a community arts centre, either, although it works closely with neighbours and local people. It was, says Lynne, born out of research conducted around 15 years ago which showed that most support for visual arts in Hampshire centered on contemporary art galleries. “Support for crafts and the applied arts, art that has a practical purpose, was not well provided for,” she says.

That’s why Making Space wasn’t housed in the typical arts venue – a refurbed old building – because of the need for bespoke, modern studios for practitioners who will move in, build up their businesses and move on.

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The seven glass-fronted studios are across a central courtyard from the ceramics and jewellery workshops – and are currently home to a textile designer, photographer, artist, print-maker, ceramicist and a gilder although, says Lynne, they’ve also had film-makers, fashion designers and jewellers among the 20 previous tenants.

“Our work here is about high quality skills, making things and revealing the making process,” says Lynne. “When people visit they see professional craftspeople and that there is a pathway to a career.” This is especially valuable for young people who may not understand that they can forge a career in crafts or the artistic world. Making Space is a passionate supporter of the Arts Award – an accredited scheme similar to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award – and since 2014 has helped 90 local young people to attain it.

Making Space works with over 150 artists and craftspeople and thanks to Lynne’s team, runs a dizzying array of workshops, taster sessions, courses and activities, such as the Reach Out initiative for children with additional needs.

One of their most successful projects has been On the Street Where We Live, celebrating the post-war heritage of Leigh Park. “The area was part of the Garden City movement and as such was designed with trees and open spaces and we wanted to celebrate that,” says Lynne.

At the centre of all they do are the resident craftspeople, such as master print-maker Mary Dalton, who was working out of a cold and damp garden shed before moving to Making Space. “What I like about this – apart from the lovely central heating and the way my paper doesn’t get mouldy now – is the fact that you don’t get distracted here,” she says. “You can set up your studio as you want. Being around other craftspeople is wonderful and takes me back to my student days.”

Mary runs workshops and particularly enjoys those involving children. “Their enthusiasm is always inspiring,” she says.

Peter Levy, a glass artist, ceramicist and painter, is Making Space’s longest-serving resident. “It’s excellent to be involved in a community of craftspeople – having worked from a garden shed I know you can become a little isolated,” he says.

Their first official visitor was Princess Anne, who opened Making Space in May, 2007. She must have been impressed because she asked to return three years ago. “She was extremely well-briefed on what we’d been up to and wanted to know how things have progressed since she first came,” says Lynne.

Celebrations to mark the tenth anniversary kicked off with Open Studios in May and Lynne adds: “We are also going to take ten stories from ten people who have been involved with Making Space over the years and record them, in conjunction with student journalists from Portsmouth University.” There will also be an exhibition of past and present tenants’ work at Farnham’s New Ashgate Gallery from June 24 to August 8 and at the Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth during September.

The million dollar question is what return do Hampshire taxpayers get for being the main funder? On the economic side it’s simple; “We get lots of visitors to our classes and courses with people coming from Chichester, Fareham, and further afield,” says Lynne. “That brings money to the area because many of them do a bit of shopping locally or pop into the nearby coffee shops or use other facilities, and we source as much as we can locally.”

Making Space also knows, from evaluation conducted after projects and courses, that people feel ‘happier’ and ‘more connected’ after participating.

Quantifying this is difficult. Who can put a value on the uplift in mental health to a depressed person who has thrown their first pot, or point to a crime not committed because a young man found meaning in a Making Space course?

Lynne cannot praise the county council enough, for continuing with its vision for crafts generally and Making Space in particular. “It has brought so much direct and indirect benefit to this area and far beyond.” she says. “There really isn’t anywhere else like this around.”



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